Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport recently launched the Government Digital Strategy, which aims to ‘create an economy which is resilient to change and fit for the future’, as the UK prepares to exit the European Union. Bradley addressed two key themes in her speech at the Strategy’s launch; one being the need to get the digital economy on the solid ground prior to Brexit and the other being the growth of digital skills in the UK population. Of course, the success of the former depends largely on the progress of the latter.
Boosting the nation’s digital prowess is particularly pressing given that it has been predicted that 90 percent of all jobs will require an element of digital skills within the next 20 years*. There has been a great deal of concern recently about the UK’s digital skills gap and it is positive to see policy makers working to address the issue. The Digital Strategy promises to ‘establish a new Digital Skills Partnership, working together with partners who are passionate about making a difference and who share our ambitions to tackle the digital skills gap.’
This is certainly to be welcomed as the industry has much to offer government when it comes to developing digital skills. The Future Digital Inclusion programme (run by the Good Things Foundation and funded by the Department for Education) is a prime example; the initiative reached, supported and trained more than 270,000 people in basic digital skills. Those ‘left beyond’ by the digital era is also now being supported by private sector organisations investing in digital skills development. As an example, Barclays has rolled out its Digital Eagles programme, which offers training in digital banking, along with a range of other online users.
For the government to truly grow the digital economy and ensure that as many citizens as possible can contribute to this, it must collaborate with industry to provide integrated training programmes. While Britain is a digital world leader, there is no room for complacency, and we need to ensure that the UK continues to develop the skills it needs to stay at the forefront of the digital revolution.
This is particularly important as Brexit looms, with many voicing their concern over the implication of immigration curbs compounding the digital skills shortage. In the face of Brexit, businesses and policy-makers must work together to support the UK’s burgeoning digital sector in accessing the right skills from around the world, while fostering homegrown expertise.
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In the recent Spring Budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond expressed the government’s intention to ‘make Britain the most attractive place to start and grow a business’, which of course relies upon a suitable tech-savvy workforce to recruit from. To this end, the Chancellor announced a £300 million allocation for supporting research talent, including 1,000 PhD places in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. This is certainly to be welcomed, as it indicates the government’s recognition of the enormous value technology plays in our economy.
The new Digital Strategy should strengthen the resolve of both government and industry bodies in future-proofing our economy by investing in progressing our collective digital skills. With so much uncertainty in the run up to Brexit, collaborating to meet this core objective is more important than ever before.